|Strawberry tarts from a patisserie|
Another fond childhood memory is the gallons of strawberry ice cream we ate during the hot, humid Wisconsin summers. We bought this in cardboard cartons which were easy to dispose of , though we never considered that then. But the best treat of all was strawberry shortcake, which I will discuss later.There's a lot to say about America's favorite dessert.
Now however, let's jump to the present and continue the story with my green bin. In Berkeley, if the weather cooperates, berries arrive in late March just in time for Easter, and they continue in the markets until November. I eat them daily throughout most of their season, and I almost always buy them at the Farmer's Market. It's important to buy organic because strawberries are often sprayed and maintain a high pesticide residue. I prefer Swanton Farm's sweet berries but I also like Lucero's. Mr. Lucero taught me how to store the berries: put them in a paper towel-lined Tupperware container, close the lid and refrigerate. This really slows spoilage. And I like to bring my empty container to the market and transfer the fruit right into it, leaving the mesh basket at the stand to be refilled by the vendor. This is catching on here; in fact, while I was photographing strawberries, three shoppers walked up with their containers. I try to avoid buying fruit packaged in plastic. I'm so grateful to live in Berkeley where I have the option of buying produce and grains in bulk, without packaging!
|Plastic containers at Trader Joe's: NO NO NO|
At home I rinse the berries lightly when I'm ready to use them and finally start collaborating with my green bin. The only inedible parts of a strawberry are the green leaves on top and their removal is called "hulling". You can do this with a tool called a strawberry huller or it can be done by hand. I like to pinch off the hull with my finger tips and flick it directly into my green bin. There's not much compost here but the quantity of leaves I remove creating morning smoothies, evening cocktails (white wine with halved berries is refreshing), fruit salads, spinach salads (pictured below) and an occasional rhubarb-strawberry crisp, does add up. I think about making exquisite strawberry fritters that I tasted in a cooking class taught by Giuliano Bugialli, the famous cookbook author, instructor and Tuscan scholar, though I never do. Fear of frying, I guess. But the recipe, "Fragole in Camicia", can be found in Bugialli's Italy.
"Old-fashioned shortcake is always made with biscuit dough, not cake, and is served with unsweetened heavy cream, unwhipped". So says Fannie Merritt Farmer in in her Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, 1896. I follow most of her advice when I make this quintessential and truly American summer dessert. I always use biscuit dough instead of cake, though I know controversy surrounds the subject. I bake the biscuits immediately prior to serving, for they must be hot from the oven to qualify as perfect shortcake. Fork-split and lavishly buttered, these savory morsels are now ready for their gaudy topping of sweetened quartered berries and cream. Here, I part ways with Fannie and use lightly sugared, whipped cream . That is my ideal strawberry shortcake: buttered hot biscuits, sweetened ripe strawberries and whipped cream laced with powdered sugar and vanilla.
|Classic strawberry shortcake|
Pictured below is my mother's recipe box, showing her "basic shortcake", written front and back on an old 3x5 card. It contains many recipes in her handwriting, a nostalgic reminder of happy childhood hours spent in her kitchen. This particular recipe comes from an old stained copy of the classic, The Settlement Cookbook, her favorite.
Today I'm featuring The Compleat Strawberry by Stafford Whiteaker, published simultaneously in England by Century and in New York by Random House Value, 1985. It's an amusing volume by a British enthusiast who celebrates the berry in art, poetry and song, with herbal remedies, gardening tips and seventy delectable recipes. This charming book is readily available on-line.